Warrior though (opening nationwide today) based on its poster art of hot, shirtless stars Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. It becomes clear while watching the movie that the men's abs aren't as defined as they are in the digitally-enhanced ad copy, but what also becomes apparent is how good a movie -- sports-themed or otherwise -- Warrior is.
Hardy (who made a big splash in Inception and will soon be seen as super-villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) and Edgerton (of last year's Animal Kingdom and next month's prequel to/remake of The Thing) play estranged brothers who also happen to have been star wrestlers and fighters as teenagers. Coached to greatness by their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte), the boys went their separate ways when their mother left her husband.
Warrior picks up 14 years later. Tommy (Hardy), having cared for their mother as she died of cancer, has returned home to Pittsburgh as an AWOL Marine with a chip on his shoulder. His now in-recovery dad takes Tommy in despite junior's resentment toward him. Meanwhile, other brother Brendan (Edgerton) is a well-admired high school physics teacher with a beautiful wife and daughters. Sadly, Brendan's family is living on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to his low teacher's salary and an exorbitant, refinanced mortgage.
In an effort to make ends meet and save the house, Brendan has secretly been spending his nights fighting in local competitions. He also has his eye on an upcoming international tournament called Sparta, dubbed "the biggest winner-takes-all event in mixed martial arts history." If Brendan wins the multimillion dollar prize, his house will be saved and his family set. But unbeknownst to him, Tommy is being trained by their father to compete in Sparta as well.
The very well written script by Gavin O'Connor (who also directs), Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman successfully squeezes new life out of many fight-movie, sibling-rivalry and Irish-Catholic cliches. While O'Connor overworks some metaphors (no less so than when it comes to Nolte's obsession with Captain Ahab and Moby Dick), Warrior emerges a pleasingly literate, compassionate depiction of flawed yet noble characters.
Edgerton's and Hardy's performances are excellent, as is Nolte's. Hardy is quickly becoming one of our more chameleon-esque actors, capable of changing his body shape, vocal quality and accent with ease. Nolte is more restrained and affecting here than he has been in some time. I would love to see Nolte receive supporting actor awards nods for his work here, and Hardy and Edgerton also have legitimate shots at the Best Actor category if they don't "cancel each other out."
The film's numerous fight scenes are intense and superbly choreographed. While brutal, Warrior doesn't wallow in violence for violence's sake. The fighting has an unexpected, contrary effect of bringing family and communities together and healing wounds during the movie's long-anticipated grand finale, when brother finally meets brother in the ring.
Warrior is exciting, visceral filmmaking at its best.
Reverend's Rating: B+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.